Archive for the ‘Classic Albums’ Category

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Formed in 1977, X quickly established themselves as one of the best bands in the first wave of LA’s flourishing punk scene; becoming legendary leaders of a punk generation. In 2020 – they released their first new album in 35 years, “Alphabetland”. X’s 1983 release “More Fun in the New World“, their fourth and last record produced by Ray Manzerak.

It was their last LP that would stay true to their punk roots. Their previous three releases (1980’s “Los Angeles1981’s “Wild Gift” and 1982’s “Under the Big Black Sun“) gave us tales of a darker side of Los Angeles that was more Tom Waits and less Hollywood.

Along with The Germs, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks, X stood out amongst a sea of Southern California punk bands who had to constantly play gigs to get their music heard. Except for college radio and KROQ, punk had no home on the airwaves. This did not deter X from improving with each album release.

The anthemic album opener “The New World” is still powerful years later, as is the absolutely beautiful ballad “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts,” which perfectly captures the paranoid feeling of Reagan’s America in the ’80s.

More Fun in the New World” incorporates a rockabilly sound mixed in with insightful sociopolitical commentary to give X the best album in their catalogue. The album starts off with the folky, brilliant and still relevant “The New World,” a razor-sharp rebuke of Ronald Reagan’s presidency without even mentioning his name. Writer Michael H. Little once called the song “a savage spit in the eye of false promises—the only promises politicians make—and one of punk’s great protest songs.” If you’ve read a newspaper or watched the news at any point in the last couple of years, then you know how important and applicable this song is to today’s America.

It was better before, before they voted for What’s-His-Name / This was supposed to be the new world / It was better before, before they voted for What’s-His-Name / This was supposed to be the new world.

Like “The New World,” “We’re Having Much More Fun” features Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe sharing lead vocals with excellent guitar work from Billy Zoom. It’s a tale of the seedier side of Los Angeles as only X could tell it. Their delivery is so compelling, you could imagine yourself sweating and boozing it up very late into the evening on a hot summer night.

In the hallways upstairs / Everyone hangs out the doors / And the silhouettes act obscene / Across from where we stay / We’re having much more fun / You don’t know where we’ve gone

X achieved new rough and rocking heights with the vicious “Devil Doll,” “Painting the Town Blue,” and “Make the Music Go Bang,” while returning once again to their retro ’50s roots with “Poor Girl”.

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“True Love” and “Poor Little Girl” are tales of the not-so-sweet-and-tender sides of love and romance. Cervenka and Doe, who were married at the time, took turns singing lead, with Cervenka taking on the former. She describes true love as the “the devil’s crowbar,” leading us to believe that she might have been better off not knowing what true love really is.

“Poor Little Girl” is Doe’s take on a relationship in which he can’t seem to do anything right and can’t figure out the source of his partner’s sadness. The guitar work of Zoom and drumming of D.J. Bonebrake is reminiscent of a sound you’d hear in a Bo Diddley song.

“Make the Music Go Bang” and “Breathless” are welcome returns to X’s uptempo sounds, with the latter standing out as one of the album’s highlights. With its cranked-up tempo and spot-on vocals by Cervenka, X’s cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless” is hands down the best version of the song. The song begs to be played as loud as possible.

“I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” is a personal favourite of mine and maybe the only song I know of that addresses America’s sketchy foreign policy and lack of airplay for punk bands on the radio. Somehow, Doe and Cervenka make it work.

“Devil Doll,” ”Painting the Town Blue,” and “Hot House” bring the album back to a style more reminiscent of their previous releases and show off the underrated songwriting of Cervenka and Doe. Each of these songs is vastly different from each other but convey a sense of pathos without losing their edge. It’s great storytelling without the sappiness of a classic country music song. “Drunk in My Past,” if sung by any other classic rock outfit, would be just another song. The vocal style of Doe and Cervenka makes this song work so well.

“I See Red” is a fun and manic blast of punk rock at its best. It speeds along at a breakneck pace, not quite out of control. As you’re listening, you constantly wonder how it’s going to end and then suddenly you hear the sound of what might be hubcaps falling off of a car.

The LP ends with “True Love (Part 2),” a track that sounds nothing like anything else X had done until this point. It’s a fun, stream of consciousness track that does not take itself too seriously, and neither should you.

Released April 12th, 2019

If one album summed up the mood of 1971 in 45 minutes, it was Sly & the Family Stone‘s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Dark, druggy and depressing as hell, the fifth album by the San Francisco group led by multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone was the recorded equivalent of a gut punch to a nation already knocked senseless by war overseas and social unrest at home.
Almost exactly a year before “There’s a Riot Goin’ On‘s” release in November 1971, Sly & the Family Stone put out their massively popular “Greatest Hits” record, which collected singles and deep cuts from 1968 and 1969. The dozen tracks wrapped up the brief history of one of R&B’s best crossover bands, chronicling a dizzying couple of years that yielded some of the era’s most enduring songs.
But anyone expecting a second sunshine-kissed greatest-hits volume in a few years was most likely side-lined by the despairing tones crawling throughout “There’s a Riot Goin’ On“. Originally titled “Africa Talks to You“, and recorded partly in response to Marvin Gaye‘s sociopolitical “What’s Going On” (another era-defining album released in 1971), the album was a moody, murky indictment of the United States at the turn of the decade.

There’s a Riot Goin’ On” is a striking example of a pathfinder taking a road, both musically and personally, that tests every relationship to the brink and beyond to a place and time where tumult is inevitable and damage is dealt harshest of all to the protagonist at the centre of it.

The cover art, featuring an American flag with suns replacing the familiar stars, says it all: Blood-red stripes offset the remaining black and white.
It wasn’t an easy record to listen to then, and it’s still tough to get through at times now. But Sly & the Family Stone never made a more significant album. It’s their masterpiece, but it’s also one of music’s most harrowing and desolate works, and one that reflected the turmoil going on within Sly Stone.
After Sly & the Family Stone’s rousing Woodstock performance, their leader became unreliable. He missed shows. He missed album deadlines (prompting the release of “Greatest Hits“). He became more and more paranoid. He moved to Los Angeles. He joined the Black Panthers, who urged him to drop the white members of his multi-racial group. And he started to take more and more drugs, which clouded his mind and, to an extent, his creativity.
When he was able to get it together, he didn’t like what he saw, particularly the end of civil-rights activism and the dark pall cast on the final years of the ’60s. So he made an album about it, replacing his band’s usual psychedelic pop and funk with a deeper, sleepier version muddled with gut-churning bass rumbles, mumbled lyrics and a sense that there was a violent revolution brewing, but only if its leader didn’t nod off first.

But the groundwork for this new blueprint of soul and funk lies in its predecessor “Stand” and, more importantly perhaps, the success it brought with it. Released in 1969 after three solid, if unspectacularly performing albums, it reached #12 Top 200, whereas none of the previous three albums had broken the top 100. Part of its success can be attributed to a moment that goes down as one of the most important in 20th Century musical history: the Woodstock Festival

When Sly and the Family Stone took the stage at 3.30am on Sunday August 17th, 1969, their lives and careers changed forever. Almost knee deep in mud and worn low by the ravages of a weekend of intoxicating substances and little sleep, the crowd was revitalized by the surging, infectious performance the band gave—a lengthy, exultant “I Want To Take You Higher” lit the touch paper and the band never looked back. In fact, it was a palpable moment of realization for those involved, as well as those in the crowd. Larry Graham, the slap bass innovator, recounted in later years the fact that the band fully grasped their potential and realized what the awesome power of the fully operational group could attain.

But the savage irony of that realization is that the seeds were sown at that moment for the gradual dissolution of the group. For with success, came money and, somewhat inevitably, distractions. It may be a tale oft-told but it remains true—no one prepares you for success and all the trappings it brings. The distractions that afflicted Sly Stone in particular are well documented—for him it was cocaine and PCP that were his escape. Scanning through the interviews he gave to journalists in the early 1970s (which were few and far between), each and every single one of them makes mention of his cocaine habit.

Sly Stone missed 26 of the 80 planned shows, but things may not have been quite so straightforward. For all that the drugs would inevitably contribute to the problem, there was the idea that some form of scam was being run by those around the group. If Stone was waylaid by someone, resulting in a missed show, it was alleged that that person got a split of the resulting financial payoff Stone was obliged to produce. When he was interviewed by David Letterman in 1983, he addressed the issue head on: “There’s no way to make three gigs in one night, if you only know about one.”

Stone used The Plant Studios in Sausalito and the loft of his Bel-Air mansion but with one added curiosity. Sly also owned a Winnebago that was fitted out (somewhat chaotically) with recording equipment that added to the places Stone could hide himself away and create what would become Riot. It was a solitary endeavor for the most part though, something that was made possible by the advent of the most basic of drum machines. 

The Maestro Rhythm King MRK2 had preset patterns that he would use in a new, exciting way as Greg Errico (a real human drummer!) grudgingly testifies in Kaliss’ book:  “The machine. . . was a lounge instrument that the guy at the bar at the Holiday Inn might have used.


Stone worked on the album, mostly by himself, throughout 1970 and 1971. Many of his vocals were recorded in his bedroom, with a drum machine driving the beat. The other members of the group later overdubbed their parts. And Stone himself overdubbed even more on top of that. The result was a mix so thick and muddy that it perfectly suited the album’s themes of disillusionment and despair.

There were the internal band tensions that had been present since almost day one. Larry Graham and Sly tussled numerous times as the former challenged Stone’s authority. There were also rumours of Graham having affairs with Rose (Sly’s sister) and Sharon (Sly’s brother Freddie’s wife)—hardly a cocktail for healthy relationships and dynamic musical brotherhood. The upshot of all that was that Graham barely appeared on “There’s a Riot Goin’ On“, instead bass parts were played by either Stone himself or Rustee Alan who was more in line with James Jamerson’s luxuriously smooth bass playing than Graham’s newly minted slap bass techniques that had contributed so memorably to “Stand’s” success.
From the opening “Luv n’ Haight” — one of the few songs here that doesn’t sound like a 45 played at 33 1/3 — to the closing “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa,” a gloomy, seven-minute reworking of Sly & the Family Stone’s 1969 No. 1 hit “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” There’s a Riot Goin’ On plays out like a drug-induced nightmare that’s a simultaneous end to the ’60s and the start of an equally tumultuous decade. The title track, which closes out Side One, runs 0:00, erasing all time and space from the record.

It’s a fitting summation of the album, because nothing else sounded like it at the time. All these years later, it remains one of the most distinctive records ever made. It confused a lot of people then, and it still does. But the success of the single “Family Affair,” which hit No. 1, drove the LP to the top of the album chart.
It would be the group’s last No. 1s, though they did manage to make one more great album, 1973’s Fresh, before Stone couldn’t keep it together anymore. There’s a Riot Goin’ On touched just about everyone who heard it. Jazz got darker and funkier, funk got darker and deeper, R&B got weirder and druggier and rock ‘n’ roll got more adventurous and complicated (the Rolling Stones, for one, were influenced by the murky production enough to bury Exile on Main St. in a similar mix).

It seems almost beyond comprehension that the group’s biggest song would come from this album, but “Family Affair” hit #1 on the charts and stayed there for three weeks. Recorded with Billy Preston on electric piano and Bobby Womack on rhythm guitar, it buried Sly’s guitar in the mix and featured his singing in an entirely different register. Gone were the urgent gospel-like vocals of previous years and in its place came a guttural, underplayed vocal that mirrored the gloomy approach to recording and the overall feel of the album.

The other singles released from the album were “Runnin’ Away” and “(You Caught Me) Smilin’” both of which did pretty well

The music on “Riot” is funky, very funky, but it is of a totally different ilk to the funk others offered. Take James Brown’s work of the time with his new line-up that included Bootsy and Catfish Collins. Their brand of funk was expansive, punchy and dancing to it meant the chance to use huge movements—spins, pirouettes and leaping splits; arms and legs flung as extensively as possible. But it is hard to imagine those same movements in response to the deep, gloopy funk of “Riot“. Here the funk is wearing a strait jacket—the movements it provokes are limited in scope and scale, instead the neck bears the brunt of the groove.

While many other rock artists during the last part of the ’60s dismissed and pushed aside the mores and ideals of their parents and earlier generations, The Kinks embraced them, finding peace and a sense of harmony in the aftermath of the Summer of Love. Frontman Ray Davies invests too much heart and perspective for this song cycle about lost British traditions to be mere satire of the nostalgia and sentiment found in its words and music.

“The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society”, a masterpiece that was completely out of step with Swinging London, while at the same time being utterly timeless. “These were rock/folk tunes,” Ray Davies says now. “But it was unlike anything the Kinks had done before. We were known for ‘You Really Got Me,’ after all.”

Devoid of any obvious singles, or any fancy production techniques, the album is a true pleasure from beginning to end, arguably running circles around the competition in both song writing and cohesiveness, and 45 years later is more influential than ever.

Often cited as one of the most quintessentially English albums of its era, “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” was venerated by critics though largely overlooked itself by the buying public at the tme. Released in the same year as The Beatles’ “The White Album“, Pink Floyd’s “A Saucerful of Secrets“, and The Band’s “Music from Big Pink, Ray Davies’ concept LP had little in common with the rest of his contemporaries, many of whom were either looking to America for musical stimulation, or tripping themselves into outer space. Instead, Davies turned to his beloved England for inspiration, writing a collection of tunes full of intriguing characters.

Released (November. 22nd) in 1968: after nearly two months of delays, The Kinks released in the UK one of rock’s most enduring concept albums ‘on Pye Records (in the US three months later on Reprise Records); It was the group’s 6th studio LP was the last by the original quartet (with bassist Pete Quaife leaving in early-’69); a collection of vignettes of English life, the album served as a virtual thematic template for the ‘Britpop‘ movement of the ’90s; although arguably the band’s most important & influential long-form work, it failed to chart upon release, selling about 100,000 copies.

The title track is a tender ode to an England that was ever rapidly changing, especially throughout the 1960’s, where Davies and Co. are determined to conserve what remains of their country’s traditionally conservative culture, preserving “the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways for me and for you/What more can we do”.

“It was obscure the week it came out,” Dave Davies jokes of the album. “Something Else” is probably my favourite Kinks album, but “Village Green” was just so good. We put those songs together in our front room, and we drew really heavily on our environment and our family, who had supported us, and I think that’s why it has such a distinctive English flavour and why the songs are so intimate in a way. Ray has such a great way of drawing characters. The song ‘Picture Book’ is like sitting in the front room looking at old photographs with your mum.”

The sentimentalism continues with “Do You Remember Walter” (a far more cynical take on aging than McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-four”), “Picture Book”, and the deliciously languid “Sitting by the Riverside”. Davies laments the demise of old British Rail on “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”, while yearning for pastoral sanity on “Animal Farm”.

“Village Green” was made at a time when we were banned from touring in America and we didn’t have much airplay,” Ray Davies says. “But I think the reason it’s become so beloved in retrospect is that it reaches people like folk music. Not many people have the “Village Green” record, but many people know it. I think it’s more to do with the sensibility, because it’s very different to typical rock music. I wasn’t worried about airplay and, whether I designed it that way or not, I reached people rather than record companies and little by little it broke through.”

Davies is right about the folky nature of the music. But it’s that very simplicity that gives the album its distinctive, if utterly straightforward, sound. While other records of the time can sound dated or perhaps too precious, Village Green has always sounded fresh and accessible, a work of an immensely in-sync group at the height of its powers, while still retaining a bit of that garage edge that makes rock ‘n’ roll so exciting.

“Everything about it was a low-achieving record, in every sense,” Ray Davies jokes. “But I intended that. We used a lot of ambient sound in recording the drums and things like that. Some people would say that made it sound like it wasn’t well-produced, but that’s the sound I wanted and it added to the poetic value of the record. It was designed to be that way.”

“That was a sound I was really into at the time,” Dave Davies remembers. “Pete [Quaife, The Kinks‘ bass player] and I were trying to get the excitement of our performances on record and that’s just the way it came out. On songs like ‘Big Sky,’ I’d think of a bass part and give it to him and he’d change it around — play off the melody, like Paul McCartney was starting to do at the time, because they both started as guitar players — and it would create something completely different and also really new-sounding.”

Ray was finding inspiration in unusual places.

“I was at a music industry schmooze fest and I couldn’t cope with all the business talk,” he says of the origin of “Big Sky.” “I conceived and wrote it on the balcony of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes [France]. I know it sounds very grand. But I had to share a room with my publisher, and so out of frustration I knocked over the geranium from our fourth floor balcony and the first line of the song, ‘Big sky looks down on all the people looking up at the big sky,’ came to me while I was looking out from the balcony of the hotel. I was in a situation I was not happy in, so I went into this world of irony and pathos and used my imagination that one day we’ll be free from all this. Because I’m sure there are lots of people like me who feel confused in a world that’s going mad and you try to find a spiritual way through it. It’s quite a spiritual record.”

The neo-psychedelic “Phenomenal Cat”, “All My Friends Were There” (which could have been penned by Syd Barrett), and “Wicked Annabella” (I can imagine a pre-T-Rex Marc Bolan grooving to this one), are all cleverly written and arranged, and slowly etch their way into the memory upon repeat listens.

As Ray Davies says in the liner notes contained within the mammoth 3-disc deluxe edition, “It’s the most successful failure of all time.”.  However over the decades appreciation for the album has multiplied, whose whimsical tales of English rural life and quaint eccentrics never seems to date. Many of these tunes have a delicacy as well as poignancy to them, not to mention a sturdy nod to American blues, Psychedelia, and folk-rock, along with a nostalgic measure of old-fashioned Music-Hall.

This is one of those classic LPs that must be absorbed and enjoyed from beginning to end, where throughout Davies paints a picture of a society that was as imaginary as it was genuine. A world invented as much on fact as it was on fiction. That it lacked a “Waterloo Sunset” or “You Really Got Me” was likely the real reason why it failed to reach a wider audience, and due not to any musical deficiency on the part of The Kinks themselves.

Originally issued in mono, “Village Green” can now be enjoyed in stereo (remastered from first generation tapes no less), making for a far superior listen (the mono version has been preserved on disc two for all the purists). However it’s the third disc that will have many a Kinks archivist’s pulse quicken, and is a Kinks fanatic’s dream come true. 55 minutes of outtakes, alternate mixes and other assorted rarities, the majority of which were previously unavailable. Only Ray Davies could have written lines such as “We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity/Gave save little shops, china cups and virginity” .

Tracklist:

01 The village green preservation society 02 Do you remember Walter 02:53 03 Picture book 05:21 04 Johnny Thunder 07:58 05 Last of the steam – powered trains 10:28 06 Big sky 14:40 07 Sitting by the riverside 17:32 08 Animal farm 23:00 09 Village green 25:13 10 Starstruck 27:42 11 Phenomenal cat 30:23 12 All of my friends were there 32:49 13 Wicked Annabella 35:33 14 Monica 37:53 15 People take picture of each other

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“In Waiting” is Pillow Queens’ debut album, the result of four years of brotherly love in a sisterly unit from Ireland’s most urgent, yearning, rock band. Crafted from our lives, and honed in a studio in rural Donegal in the northwest of Ireland, this is a record by queens in waiting and kings in the making. It’s an album about love; self-love, queer love, the anxiety- inducing fault lines of romantic love, and the love for a city and a country that simultaneously has your back and is on your back. For fans of early PJ Harvey, Waxahatchee and Hop Along.

‘In Waiting’ couldn’t have come at a better time for the band. The album was mostly finished just before the pandemic hit. They were kept busy over lockdown with the final mastering and admin. Creating their own label meant spending lockdown doing a lot of paperwork to get their “ducks in a row”. I was very excited when the Pillow Queens announced their debut album last year. I think they really embody a message of female power and fun. Tracks from this record are always wiggling their way on to my playlists. Pillow Queens stand loud and proud on the shoulders of so many amazing female artists that have paved the way for women in music and so many artists that I love. Plus I just think they are so bloody cool. I’m psyched to catch them live at the next possible opportunity.

Pillow Queens have truly captured lightning in a bottle. All the magic and energy of their live performances is maintained in this recording, while softer and more intimate moments are spread throughout adding an intense range of emotions while maintaining their distinctive sound. In particular, the transition from “HowDoILook” into “Liffey” took my breath away on my first listen, and continues to give me chills to this day. Cannot recommend this album enough.

A year after same-sex marriage was made legal in Ireland, Sarah Corcoran, Pamela Connolly, Cathy McGuinness, and Rachel Lyons formed Pillow Queens: an all-queer DIY outfit named for a slang term referencing somebody who takes more than they give in bed. Unafraid to tackle thorny subjects like politics and religion, the quartet dropped its debut EP Calm Girls in 2016 and its debut album In Waiting last year. Cloaked in catchy choruses, both works are equally pugnacious and anthemic, as fun to blare with the windows rolled down as they are substantive. 

All songs written and performed by Pillow Queens.

Pillow Queens are a 4-piece from Dublin, Ireland. Their debut album ‘In Waiting’ the debut album was released September 25th

A closer look at the next title in the Esoteric Recordings Be Bop Deluxe reissue series: Modern Music, 4CD/1DVD Deluxe Boxset Edition, released December 6th! . For an artist registered and branded as one of guitar heroism’s most innovative players, Bill Nelson is not one to be stuck in the past or focused on the present. Always inventing, always evolving, and always looking to the next thing (and the thing after that) the Yorkshire, U.K.-based guitarist and songwriter made himself and his legendary first ensemble Be-Bop Deluxe into an anomaly from their first record. With 1974’s glam-era debut Axe Victim, Be Bop Deluxe added a progressive complexity and a daring density to the glittery genre, a dynamic previously unheard within Britpop’s most pomp and circumstantial sound. Nelson’s razor-sharp and soaring eletro-induced solos were a large part of that experimental esprit. Then and now, Nelson’s guitar scrawl sounds like no other. Increasingly catchy and chancy as time went on, 1976’s opulent Sunburst Finish and 1978’s Drastic Plastic are very much at one with their titles.

For all of its studio wizardry (produced by Nelson with John Leckie, eventually known for his work with Magazine and PiL), 1977’s Live! In the Air Age is Be-Bop Deluxe’s art-rock masterpiece: an elegant, sprawling mix of then-new, previously unrecorded and past work splayed across the dirtball nihilism of Brit-punk’s origin story. Recorded live on BBD’s 1977 tour just months before its release, “Live!” is fiery and hot wired for freshness. After they pressed their audacious 1977 concert LP, BBD stuck around for one more album (the aforementioned Drastic Plastic) before disappearing with Nelson moving forward and focusing on Cocteau-inspired solo work, another band (Red Noise), collaborations with fellow travellers in experimental electronic music (Yellow Magic Orchestra, David Sylvian, Roger Eno, Cabaret Voltaire), and an ongoing series of homemade ambient albums, previously unreleased epics, and other sonic explorations—all hung on a moon of fierce independence as an artist and as a releasing agent.

Nelson never looked back, until 2018’s four-album exploration of Sunburst Finish. That recently opened the door, thankfully, to a similarly sized four-LP “Axe Victim”, and now a whopping 15-CD/one DVD expansion of “Live! In the Air Age” to include every gig on that 1977 tour, along with freshly remixed and vividly remastered sound. Though an active blogging presence, Nelson doesn’t do many interviews, so our rare opportunity to speak with him is particularly choice.

Recorded in June and July 1976 at Abbey Road Studio Three, ” Modern Music” was the fourth album by Be Bop Deluxe and the second to feature the line-up of Bill Nelson (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Charles Tumahai (bass, vocals) ,Andy Clark (keyboards) and Simon Fox (drums). Following on from the success and critical praise for the band’s previous album Sunburst Finish, the album was once more co-produced by Bill Nelson and John Leckie.

Much of the material appearing on the album was conceived by Bill Nelson whilst Be Bop Deluxe were undertaking their first tour of the USA in March 1976. The wonderful and expansive Modern Music “suite” which dominated the album was inspired by Bill’s experiences of America, the disillusionment with the US music business and a longing for home. Beside the fine achievement of the suite, MODERN MUSIC also featured other fine songs such as Orphans of Babylon, Kiss of Light, The Bird Charmers Destiny and the epic Down on Terminal Street, all of which ensured that the album was a hit in both the UK and the USA.

This expanded reissue has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes and features an additional 55 bonus tracks drawn from a stunning new 5.1 surround sound & stereo mixes from the original multi-track tapes by award winning engineer Stephen W. Tayler, previously unreleased out-takes from the album sessions, a BBC Radio “In Concert” performance from October 1976, along with a bonus CD of a previously unreleased “official bootleg” of a performance at The Riviera Theater in Chicago in March 1976 recorded for FM Radio on Be Bop Deluxe’s first US tour which features a rare jam entitled Bill’s Blues. The set also includes visual material taken from a session for BBC TV’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” show broadcast in November 1976.

Another highlight of this limited-edition boxed set is the lavishly illustrated 68-page book with many previously unseen photographs and an essay of recollections by Bill Nelson. Additionally, the set includes postcards and a replica poster. This special deluxe limited-edition boxed set of MODERN MUSIC is a fitting tribute to a fine band and the creative vision of Bill Nelson.

Re-mastered from the original master tapes with 55 bonus tracks drawn from stunning new 5.1 surround sound & stereo mixes, previously unreleased out-takes, BBC In Concert sessions, live performances & more!

A few years ago after reviewing Elizabeth Gundersen’s project Le Wrens. It was genuinely became one of my favourite albums from such a promising new songwriter. It was sad to hear that Le Wrens project was discontinued, but then I found out this new solo album had came out recently, Of course Gundersen’s song writing does not disappoint. 

The opening track “Falling For You” is a love song that shows the complications of a new relationship. It’s that feeling of wondering if the other person is as into you as you are into them. There’s some really great modern country styles on the guitar here, but it’s a wonderful way to start the album as Gundersen’s powerful lead vocal is able to show off a bit. One consistent theme on the album that you hear immediately is her ability to articulate dynamics from soft spoken words to big powerful ballad proclamations.

“Walls” is a quintessential Americana track, mixing elements of what we might call country music with a nice Tom Petty kind of folk rock vibe. The storytelling elements in the lyrics make for a comfortable track, even if it’s about the feeling of being unsettled. It seems like the kind of track that could come from someone who has spent time on the road performing music. The line “I’m sorry that I’m broken, but these days most girls are”. Stylistically, “Farewell William” is one of my favourites tracks on the album. The soft, articulate piano work accents Gundersen’s vocal extremely well. The phrasing on this song is the kind of thing that you just can’t teach. She’s reciting poetic lyrics layered over some deceptively complex melody lines. This is the work of an accomplished songwriter. The authenticity drips from her lips on this one. I wish I had more technical terms to say that I just really, really like listening to it. What a beautiful way to say goodbye.

“Elephant Heart” was the first song from this album that I ever heard.  There’s a version of it on YouTube that I listen to it on regular rotation because it’s just SO good. This studio version is paced a bit differently, but still holds that magic of Gundersen’s lead vocal. Her brother Noah Gundersen appears on this track, providing his characteristic vocal brilliance in harmonies. The vibrant imagery from Elizabeth Gundersen as a songwriter, though, steals the show on this one. She gives all these incredible details about the interaction with this lover, then says “you were not there.” 

“Precious Wine” might be my other favourite track on the album. There’s a real dark aggression to the song that is deeply pleasing. The sense of bitterness and frustration is palpable, but at the same time the composition is still really nice to listen to. It’s got the right kind of “edge” to it that cuts through the tension of the situation the lyrics describe.

The final track “My Side” is a delightful, almost hymn-like song. The poetic delivery again transcends easy genre conventions, giving a thoughtful and emotional track. Duo vocals from Seattle artist Chris Rovik really make the song stand out. The minimalist aesthetic of the beginning plays perfectly into the orchestral bloom that comes later in the track. Cinematic and soothing, it’s a song with auspicious ambitions that come to fruition when the strings and vocals blend to perfection.

This is an exceptionally good album from an incredible songwriter. Gundersen’s work with Le Wrens, but this album shows a major step forward in development. 

Nathan Yaccino: Drums (1, 5) Bass (1, 2, 5) Piano (1, 3) Guitar (1, 2, 5) Synth (3)
Jacob Nevaro: Guitar (1)
Jonathan Gundersen: Drums (2) Vocals (2, 4, 5)
Elizabeth Gundersen: Guitar (6)
Noah Gundersen: Piano (4) Vocals (4)
Abby Gundersen: All Strings
Michael Porter: Guitar (2)
Chris Rovik: Vocals (6)
Andy Park: Synth (4)

I wrote most of the songs on this album during the transition from late teens to early twenties. “Elephant Heart” tells a story of that transition. Feeling that I was losing control and going back and forth between diving in and fighting back. Elizabeth

Released January 11th, 2018

My Page: Simone Felice’s Tower of Song

When Amazon Music Produced By series, where I would work with four different artists on four tracks, I had a basic idea who I wanted to collaborate with. But each one of these songs required a unique creative approach.

I had worked with The Lumineers on their last album, so working with Wesley Schultz again felt like a natural fit. We were both looking forward to the session. It had been a few years since we made “Cleopatra” and the fever to get back in the studio together had been building for all of us. Throughout August, we threw around four or five different ideas for which song we should do. Should we try an original? An old, well-loved cover? A weird, obscure cover? We decided that instead of making a hard and fast plan, we should throw some paint at the wall and see what stuck.

The night before we were planning to record, we took a long ride through the mountains to see a friend’s band. We both DJed a bit in my car on the way and landed on “Bell Bottom Blues,” a song that had been haunting me all year. I remembered hearing it when I was a kid, some late- ‘70s flashback riding in my dad’s van with an ice cream cone and a contact high. But this past winter, deep in the inevitable Catskills cabin- fever, low-vitamin-D blues, I rediscovered it by accident while binging on Martin Scorsese and coming across his brilliant film George Harrison: “Living in the Material World”. I was shaken and moved by the story behind the scenes, how George’s close friend Eric Clapton fell in love with his wife Pattie Boyd, and all the drama, pain, music and emotion that followed. I was glad to learn this song was new to Wes and loved how much hearing it for the first time moved him. We pulled over and listened to it again, both of us spellbound.

When we got to the studio the next morning, I was surprised and moved when Wes said, “Let’s do ‘Bell Bottom Blues.’ I can’t get it out of my head.” I wholeheartedly agreed, without a second thought, and we dove right in with my man David Baron, scrambling to set up mics, find the right key and learn the piano chords. It was the kind of studio moment you hear people talk about and, hopefully, experience yourself a few times on the rocky journey of making records—pure spontaneity, inspiration, danger and teamwork. Needless to say, we forgot about all the other songs we had planned to try.

The approach with The Felice Brothers was very different. My brother Ian wrote this beautiful song a few years back about our mother—her strength, struggles and sacrifice. For one reason or another, it never ended up on an album, so this project presented a welcome opportunity to give this special cut, which had become a staple of the Brothers’ live shows, a proper life in the recorded realm. As luck would have it, Conor Oberst and Wes were in the Catskills the same week we planned to record “Patti”— everyone’s become friends over the years and we all revere Ian’s writing—so it felt like the natural thing to do was to ask them both to guest on the track. Growing up, we loved bands with several different unique lead singers: The Beatles, The Band, Beastie Boys, Traveling Wilburys (the first tape I ever owned), Wu- Tang Clan (a few ill cats spittin’ fire). This was a cool chance to try our own dirtbag homage to that tradition and praise the eternal mother.

Phoebe Bridgers had the idea to do “Powerful Man” by Alex G. I can’t take credit for that—I’m lucky that she turned me on to the song for the first time. I had never heard it before so I was coming to it without any baggage and, when I sat down to listen, I was immediately struck by the poetry and the hypnotic flow on the vocal phrasing. It reminded me, in a completely non-derivative way, of some of the best works by one of my all-time favourite artists, Elliott Smith, so I was all in. Then when we got into the studio together, I was absolutely blown away by Phoebe’s interpretation of the song. When we began recording, she performed the rare magic trick that many covers fail to achieve: She made it her own, as if she had recently written it in a moment of genuine inspiration, while still maintaining the essence of the original melody and meaning. It was a very special sleight of hand.

When Conor and I first began talking about what song we’d do together, he directed me toward a few obscure YouTube videos of him singing some unrecorded material live in various random countries and venues. These were rough fan videos, posted online in the heat of devotion, and I had a private little laugh to myself sitting in my workshop listening and watching my old friend singing because I know that, like most prolific geniuses, he had written these incredibly powerful songs, probably in a flash of inspiration, on the road or in some hotel and, without much pomp and circumstance, taught them quickly to his players (in this case my brother James on piano) and played them at a gig or three before moving on to new ideas. That’s Conor’s brilliance—always hunting for the Holy Grail, the key to the Tower of Song—that’s why he’s one of the best ever. I’m very proud that our recording of “LAX” will be the definitive studio version, haunted and inspired like the original YouTube video, but with Phoebe’s ghostly vocals and a bit of macabre orchestration.

Produced by Simone Felice (Amazon Original)

Hawkwind In Search Of Space album cover web optimised 820

Happy 50th anniversary to “In Search of Space”, the first masterpiece of Hawkwind originally released on 8th October 1971. Hawkwind’s debut album is one of the first full length “Space Rock” albums, but they mastered that art by the time of this sophomore album. The band went on to release the classics like Doremi Fasol Latido (1972), Space Ritual (1973), Hall of the Mountain Grill (1974)

A bold step forward for Hawkwind, their second album, ‘In Search Of Space” laid the groundwork for the landmark track ‘Silver Machine.’ It’s hard to imagine the world of rock’n’roll without Hawkwind’s presence. The pioneering London space-rockers have now endured for five decades, and have a string of classic albums under their belt, among them “In Search Of Space” and “Warrior On The Edge Of Time“. While guitarist/vocalist Dave Brock has remained the only constant, legendary figures such as Ginger Baker, sci-fi/fantasy writer Michael Moorcock and Motörhead founder Lemmy have all passed through its ranks.

Even now, the band’s detractors still dismiss them as merely a “hippie” aberration, but while this seemingly invincible outfit will forever be associated with the UK’s free-festival circuit, in reality their music has embraced everything from prog-rock to psychedelia and heavy metal. Later LPs, such as 1992’s Electric Teepee, even flirted with genres as disparate as ambient and techno.

To date, Hawkwind has recorded almost 30 studio LPs for both major labels (Charisma, Bronze, Active/RCA) and independent imprints (Flicknife, EBS). Yet while the band remains a going concern, most long-term supporters would argue that their career-defining discs emerged from their fruitful tenure with their initial sponsors, Liberty/United Artists, between 1970 and 1975.

Released in August 1970 and co-produced by former Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, Hawkwind’s eponymous debut was book-ended by two folk-flavoured tracks, “Hurry On Sundown” and “Hall Of Mirrors,” but it was dominated by a lengthy free-form, psych-prog jam which was edited down, in Can-like fashion, into shorter individual selections.

Hawkwind was a volatile outfit at the best of times and their initial line-up disintegrated soon after their debut. The original nucleus of Brock, sax/flute maestro Nik Turner, drummer Terry Ollis and synth player Dik Mik remained, but guitarist Hugh Lloyd Langton quit; ex-Amon Düül II bassist Dave Anderson replaced Thomas Crimble, and the band’s soundman, Del Dettmar, stepped in as an additional synth/electronics manipulator.

This line-up recorded the band’s celebrated sophomore release, In Search Of Space. First issued in October ’71 and compiled from sessions overseen by former Jimi Hendrix/Small Faces engineer George Chkiantz at London’s Olympic Studios, the album was a bold step forward from Hawkwind’s debut. Arguably,  The album opens with the mind-numbing galactic haze of “You Shouldn’t Do That,” a spooky little 15-minute excursion that warps, throbs, and swirls with Dik Mik’s “audio generator” and the steady drum pace of Terry Ollis. Then comes the ominous whispering of the title, set to the pulsating waves of Dave Brock’s guitar and Turner’s alto sax, with Dettmar’s synth work laying the foundation. Wonderfully setting the tone, “You Shouldn’t Do That” improvisational looseness and rhythmic fusion smoothly open up the album into the realm of Hawkwind. The peculiarity never ceases, as but Brock and Co. also excelled on the intergalactic blues-rock of “You Know You’re Only Dreaming” and “We Took the Wrong Steps Years Ago” delves even deeper into obscurity, sometimes emanating with the familiar jangle of the guitar which then has its acquaintance overshadowed by the waft of the keyboard. Just as laced the succinct, acid-addled “Master Of The Universe’ with Nuggets-esque proto-punk energy, chugs and rolls with a foreboding rhythm, “Adjust Me” retaliates with its moaning verse and tonal fluctuations fading into oblivion. The ground breaking sound which Hawkwind achieved on “In Search of Space” helped to open up a whole new avenue of progressive rock. The track “You Shouldn’t Do That,” wherein the band locked into a super-hypnotic motorik groove.

Designed by future Stiff Records/Elvis Costello artist Barney Bubbles, “In Search Of Space” came housed in a spectacular interlocking die-cut sleeve which unfolded into the shape of a hawk, and came accompanied by a 24-page book, the sci-fi-flavored The Hawkwind Log, conceived by the band’s long-term associate, poet Robert Calvert. Successfully feeding the era’s discerning heads, the LP climbed to No.18 in the UK, it won Hawkwind a gold disc, and laid the groundwork for their UK Top 10 hit, June ’72’s “Silver Machine,” which featured a commanding vocal from new recruit Lemmy.

“P.N.E. Garden Auditorium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 7/29/66 marks Grateful Dead’s debut performance outside of the United States. Their complete July 29th, 1966 performance is being released in a limited edition, 2-LP, 180 gram vinyl-set, with four bonus tracks from the ensuing 7/30 performance at the same venue.”

In an interview, Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux said that he had wanted to release this concert as an album, but it was too short for the Dave’s Picks series. He said that since the concert was an early one, from before the time of CDs, that made it seem like a good choice for an LP. He added, “As a vinyl release it works extremely well where you get three or four songs per side and they’re all really short songs – anywhere from three to five minutes.”

This is a great recording. Its interesting to see how they mixed these older sets. This was (obviously) a huge growth period and they were really pushing the envelope as for as what they could do electronically. Interesting how they distribute the different tracks to right and left speakers

The Dead go through much of their standard repetoire for this time but do it very well. Bob may be low in the mix, but the other guys, especially Pigpen and Jerry are tearing it up. Pig’s early organ playing is a delight, he was really good and with Jerry is the main instrumental voice in the band. The real surprise here though are two songs I’m not that familiar with: “You Don’t Have To Ask” and “Cardboard Cowboy”. Both are excellently played examples of mid sixties psychedelic rock. I think “Cardboard Cowboy” may have been played at one other show. The crowd are either lame or not miked as they’re barely audible and it sounds like there may be 10 people in attendance. For example the band do a great ripping version of “You Don’t Have To Ask” that stops on a dime after a great Jerry solo and there’s… silence,

Original cover art by Canadian poster artist, Bob Masse. The iconic 60’s poster artist has designed original works for artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Doors, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller Band, No Doubt, Fiona Apple & Smashing Pumpkins to name a few. The show was mastered from the original audio recordings by GRAMMY winning sound engineer Jeffrey Norman at Mockingbird Mastering in Petaluma, CA. This audio was first made available in January, 2016 as the bonus disc in the 2-CD The Grateful Dead (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) as it features most of the tracks that would make their way on to the first official Grateful Dead album. It was previously unreleased before this year and is only available as a stand-alone show in this limited edition vinyl set.

King Crimson’s “Discipline” is an adventurous, experimental and ground-breaking collection from one of rock’s truly singular bands, By the dawn of the 80s, punk had rock music to its foundations. So much so that even one-time prog rockers were streamlining their sound/approach. King Crimson were one such band, as evidenced by 1981’s exceptional “Discipline”. 

When leader/guitarist Robert Fripp decided to form a ‘new Crimson’ band, overindulgences were trimmed and replaced with a sound heavy on rhythm and experimentation. A chance meeting would shape the rest of the line-up. 

“I met Robert Fripp one night in New York, at a club called the Bottom Line,” remembers singer/ guitarist Adrian Belew. “I was playing with David Bowie at the time [1979/1980] and [we] went to see Steve Reich. When the lights came up, Robert was at the table next to us. So I went over, and he wrote his hotel number on my arm. We had coffee, and got to know each other. 

“In nineteen-eighty I started with the Talking Heads, and when they arrived in England I got a call from Robert saying: ‘I’m starting a new band with [drummer] Bill Bruford and myself. Would you like to be a part of it?’ I jumped at the chance.” 

After an extended hiatus and just as prog’s first decade ended, Fripp got behind the wheel for another series of remarkable efforts. Retaining Bruford and recruiting agile bassist Tony Levin, it was the audacious decision to employ a second guitarist (Adrian Belew, who also handled vocal duties) that gives this collective its characteristic sound. Fripp’s exposure to new wave, complemented by an increasingly globe-ranging palette, alongside Belew’s supple support, results in material that is challenging yet concise. On songs like “The Sheltering Sky” Fripp incorporates virtually every trick in his arsenal, creating something that integrates multiple source-points (African, Indian, and Western). The title track is like a business card for the new decade: Fripp asked a lot of his audience, but he’s always asked more of himself.

 

“I don’t think any of us knew we were creating something so unusual,” Belew says. “But now that I look back, it’s easy to see – every one of us had new technology. I was the first to have a guitar synthesiser, and Robert was probably the second. Tony had the Chapman Stick, which no one had used before, and Bill was fooling with electronic drums. So you had these four monkeys in a cage together with new toys. Something was bound to happen.”  Something did indeed happen. With funky workout “Elephant Talk”, ambient soundscapes (Sheltering Sky), tranquil moments (Matte Kudasai) and controlled freak-outs (Thela Hun Ginjeet, Indiscipline), 1981’s Discipline sounded like nothing before it. 

 

An interesting occurrence developed during sessions for Thela Hun Ginjeet. Belew remembers it vividly: “John Lennon had been killed, and he was my hero. So I tried to write a lyric about being molested with a gun on the streets of a city. I tried to think of phrases, as though it was an interview on the street after the occurrence. 

“We were in a part of London that was a dangerous area, but I didn’t know that. I had a tape recorder, and Robert said: ‘If you want to get realistic sounds, why don’t you walk around on the street and say your lines?’

“I walked down one of the streets, and there was illegal gambling going on by a group of Rastafarian guys – pretty tough-looking. And they’d gathered around me. They thought I was an undercover policeman. They were about to kill me! At one point the ‘leader’ grabbed my tape recorder and played back what I had just been saying: ‘He had a gun!’ [laughs] The guy freaked out. ‘What gun?!’ They finally let me go, I’m not sure why. 

“I went back to the studio. I was so shook up, and I ran into the control room and was telling Robert the story. Meanwhile, he had whispered to the engineer to record it, and that’s what you hear on the record.” 

Although Discipline wasn’t a big hit, it re-established King Crimson, and touched a legion of young musicians. Says Belew: “It certainly wasn’t a record that your average person would know, but it had an affect on Primus, Tool, Trent Reznor and so many people. That record affected the way they saw music. And for me, that’s even better than saying we had a big hit record.”